Dorianne Laux now lives in Raleigh, NC, where she teaches writing in the NC State graduate writing program. Her most recent book, The Book of Men, was published by WW Norton. Go to her website to find out about her many events and projects.
Who would want to give it up,
the coala cat's eye in the dark room, no one there
but you and your smoke, the window
cracked to street sounds, the distant cries
of living things. Alone, you are almost
safe, smoke slipping out between the sill
and the glass, sucked into the night
you don't dare enter, its eyes drunk
and swimming with stars. Somewhere
a Dumpster is ratcheted open by the claws
of a black machine. All down the block
something inside you opens and shuts.
Sinister screech, pneumatic wheeze,
trash slams into the chute: leftovers, empties.
You don't flip on the TV or the radio, they
might muffle the sound of car engines
backfiring, and in the silence between,
streetlights twitching from green to red, scoff
of footsteps, the rasp of breath, your own,
growing lighter and lighter as you inhale.
There's no music for this scarf of smoke
wrapped around your shoulders, its finger
scrawling the pale stem of your neck,
no song light enough, liquid enough,
that climbs high enough before it thins
and disappears. Death's shovel scrapes
the sidewalk, critches across the man-made
cracks, slides on grease into rain-filled gutters,
digs its beveled nose among the ravaged leaves.
You can hear him weaving his way
down the street, sloshed on the last breath
he swirled past his teeth before swallowing:
breath of the cat kicked to the curb, a woman's
sharp gasp, lung-filled wail of the shaken child.
You can't put it out, can't stamp out the light
and let the night enter you, let it burrow through
your infinite passages. So you listen and listen
and smoke and give thanks, suck deep
with the grace of the living, blowing halos
and nooses and zeros and rings, the blue chains
linking around your head. Then you pull it in
again, the vein-colored smoke,
and blow it up toward a ceiling you can't see
where it lingers like a sweetness you can never hold,
like the ghost the night will become.